Sunday, December 30, 2012

Internal Chatter

December 30, 2012

Dear Friends,

Gay continues to steadily improve and will join us again in blog-world next week. In a conversation today, she referred to her time away from writing as a vacation. If a vacation is what she had, sign me up for something else! She, of course, was joking. She has worked harder than ever, in a different way, to ensure her return home. I'm grateful for the opportunity to share a bit of my life, learned primarily through Gay's investment in me, with each of you. 

Last week, I was fully aware of the raw emotion and the vulnerability on my part in posting such bare portions of my inner world. I wanted to illustrate something learned from years of knowing Gay. She has given me a great gift in this phrase, "Lori, you are not alone." It has generally been followed by, something like, "I cannot tell you how many women I've heard speak those same words...." 

When a negative emotion is involved, particularly shame, silence and isolation feed the flames of destruction. Words articulated, whether verbally or in writing, help lessen the power of shame. If empathy is introduced, seedlings of change are watered. 

One precious friend who read the post and took the time to comment on Facebook and in person noted how she cried as she read it. I was so grateful that she told me why she cried. I've learned that one can never assume why a person is crying. Tears are complicated-- sad, angry, confused, often unearthing buried events of old. She said, "Lori, I was crying because of the negative chatter in your head."

I intentionally shared that internal chatter. Unspoken conversations with ourselves can be highly destructive and confusing. When I met Gay 23 years ago, I was largely unaware of the ongoing negative chatter in my head. I was even more ignorant of what power those words had in my daily life. She helped me discover the sources of some of the consistent, destructive forces--my furies. 

Do I still struggle with internal chatter? CLEARLY, yes! That said, over time, I have learned to sift and sort through lies and truth, sources and fuel. Even better, I know how to find sources of life giving, affirming replacements. 

Looking back at my chatter just before the ugly cry breakdown in my kitchen last week, did I sob because I broke the head off of the cutest yoga man cookie I'd ever made? No.

I wouldn't have known that 23 years ago, though. By following the progression of thoughts, I was able to figure out what I was really feeling at that moment. 

I was frustrated by my efforts. My plan DID NOT include adding stress to the list of possible negative feelings. Did I think I was a failure, though? No. I know I am competent and highly creative. 
Did I make a colossal mess in the kitchen? Yes. 
Can I clean well? Yes. Do I want  to clean well? NO! 
Did my 8th grade teacher give great advice about not eating frosting as you work? Yes! Why? She knew, from experience that the result is awful.

Remembering my intention helped me hone in on the core issue: do something I enjoy that connects me with others during a lonely time. My project compounded an issue. Now I was a frustrated lonely person having to fight off furies of the past. Is anyone else exhausted? 

I had a choice for my next decision that night. Leave the kitchen a mess and wallow in self pity. Which, historically involve lots of butter cream frosting and  a combination of romantic comedies and tragic films. Or listen to a loving, kind voice within my Spirit that said, "Lori, it's time for church. Change your focus."

I recognize that voice as the spirit of God in my life. 

In the past I often ran from God or rebelled against Him in response to situations I didn't understand. More importantly, I confused that negative chatter in my mind and heart with His messages to me. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. 

God's voice never belittles or condemns. He loves me and his communication with me and to me is always based in love. Love is who He is, not simply what He does. 

By responding to His message to change my focus, I opened up my heart and mind to the supernatural. At that moment I had no real power to change my feelings of isolation and loneliness. Knowing answers didn't change my circumstances; but, because God loves perfectly and with such tenderness, I was able to enter into a place of security and comfort that only He could provide. 

The story got better as the week progressed. I am sincere when I say that I truly wasn't looking for pity or attention by writing of my frustrations and loneliness. My goal was to draw attention to the powerful combination of doing internal, emotional work and then offering your pain and concerns to God, whom I believe is more than able to meet us in that place of suffering. I knew I was only one of what surely amounts to millions of people who were alone and feeling sad during Christmas.

I'm blessed beyond measure with lots of dear friends. I know that I can invite myself into their homes and I am welcome. My plan was to be content with pretending that Christmas day was simply another Tuesday doing quiet things alone. Instead, I had two lovely, barely optional invitations for Christmas. One for lunch. One for dinner. My lunch was with a new friend and her extended family. My dinner was with friends and their extended family whom I've known for a decade. Both were filled with great stories and laughter that bonded us together in new ways. 

With fluffy white snowflakes falling outside my window that Christmas night, a rare event in Dallas, I kept thinking about this verse in scripture, 

Psalm 68:6 "God sets the lonely in families." 

Annie Beth arrived at noon on Friday and we drove to my parent's ranch just southwest of Fort Worth. The dogs and cousins all ran to greet us. We exchanged gifts, laughter, and enjoyed our feast of food. 

I will always remember my Christmas of 2012--all of it. I will, in the future keep my eyes and ears open to offer invitations to those who might, even with reluctance, need a dose of family togetherness.

As Gay would say, "Thinking with you about recognizing the difference between negative internal chatter and God's spirit of loving direction in your life. See you next week."

Blessings to each of you. ~lori

Sunday, December 23, 2012

All is Wight?

December 23, 2012

Dear Friends,

I am pleased to report that Gay is home! Miss Annie is even more delighted to share her home with Gay again. It will be good for both of them to establish their regular routines and make adjustments with what might be new patterns. Your continued prayers are, as always, deeply appreciated. There will be transitions and changes for Gay over the course of the next few weeks.

 regularly read a few blogs written by people who are well known. I often agree wholeheartedly with their words, but wonder, not so privately, "Does that person really practice this idea in his or her life?" That's one of the reasons I enjoy reading Gay's blog so much. I have the great privilege of knowing her well. Although admittedly imperfect, I know that she works on being authentic and genuine with her life and faith. 

I am neither famous nor quote worthy. My last two posts, though, have been about God's presence in our lives. That said, I'd like to share a few experiences of my life with Emmanuel--God with Us--this past week.

I was aware like tinfoil on a filled tooth that once I dropped my daughter at school on Thursday morning, I wouldn't see her again until her dad returned her to my house on December 28th at noon. I accept that my choice to divorce meant both freedom and profound loss for me, for my child, and many others. Even with my full acceptance comes the reality of being without her on Christmas every other year. It's painful. I get to choose, though, what I do with that pain.

As part of my survival strategy, I planned a baking project. Not just any baking project. NO. I'd found yoga posing gingerbread men that I HAD to give to my instructors. There was no way in the world I was gonna pay $9.99 per cutter. No descendant of a depression era generation would pay that! So, I decided to MAKE the cutters as well. I couldn't decide which pose was the cutest, so I made all ten poses. I started collecting the goods about a week ago.

My Saturday afternoon included 7 feet of one inch aluminum hobby siding, six batches of gingerbread, five baking sheets, four batches of white royal frosting (three ruined, one almost right), three bandaids,  two bulging trashbags, and sing along, "One extra trip to Wal-Mart." As I took my favorite and nearly perfect plow pose gingerbread man off the cooling rack, his head remained stuck to the edge of said rack. I'd beheaded my best one! I started bawling. 

It was the full out ugly cry. 

The chatter in my head sounded something like this...
"You can't do anything right!!!
Even in trying to distract yourself by doing something to give as gifts, you just make a HUGE mess!!! 
       and they don't even look good!!! 
You've done what your cake decorating teacher in 8th grade said NOT to do all day!  ---lick the frosting off your fingers. and now you're sick to your stomach to boot! You deserve it!! 
You'll NEVER learn!!  It will take hours to clean up the mess. and you stink at cleaning....Internal pause. 
And MOST of all 

Thus the ugly cry.

I looked at the clock and it was 4:00 PM. There was enough time to put on a shirt, comb frosting out of my hair, slap on makeup, and head to church. Focused worship would be my best option. 

I attend a very large church in the Dallas area. In order to serve as many people as possible without needing a Cowboy stadium sized building, we have Saturday services. I attend regularly at 4:30. The parking lot was jammed packed. I'd forgotten until that moment that it was the Christmas Eve service. I sit by myself almost every week. It never bothers me. Christmas Eve service seems different, though. I quickly texted my dear friend to see if she and her husband and newborn would be there. Nope. 7:30 service. My heart sank and tears started clogging my ducts. I sucked them back and found one of only a few aisle seats that remained. I texted my friend again. "Should have planned better, I could just bawl. So alone.(sad face emoticon)"

The worship center was beautiful. The band included an upright bass, a cello, a viola, and a violin this week. They were playing and the large screens had moving visuals of stars and the night sky. Stunningly exquisite. I had all but stood up to sing the first Christmas carol when I could no longer hold back my tears. When the flood of tears escaped my squeezed shut eyelids, I felt slender fingers and a delicate touch on my shoulder. I turned to see a friend who had been in my small group back when Richard and I led the group together. She with such tenderness said, "Lori, we have an extra seat with our family, if you'd like to sit with us."


I know His voice and I recognize His touch. He just used precious, sensitive Julie to communicate His message.
I am WITH you, Lori. 
I KNOW alone. 
I am here. 

Isaiah 53: 3
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering.

He went to a great deal of trouble to make sure we are never alone, didn't He? He accepted responsibility for our sin, my sin so that He could make a way for us to be with Him forever. In the here and now, He also made provision for healing.

Isaiah 53:5
But he was pierced for our transgression,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him
and by his wounds we are healed.

Tears of joy flowed easily throughout the remainder of that hour. It's rare that children attend our service because of our wonderful children's ministry. I laughed as the bow headed little girl in her ruffled red and green striped outfit danced in the aisle. During the next song, I saw out of my peripheral, three year old Jonathon, whom I'd just met, raise his little hand to mimic his daddy. That reminded me to stop singing. I love to hear the voices of little people. I can know something of that child by the way he sings. It makes me realize how much God must love hearing each of us. I leaned in a little closer across the aisle to hear a little boy sing Silent Night in the loudest voice he could muster. I noticed  his 'r' sounded like a 'w'. Translation would be, 

"wound young viw-iwgin mothew and child." 

When we repeated the song I realized that little boy was not saying bright. He had omitted the ' b'. He thought the word was either white or right. 

"Silent Night. Holy Night. All is calm. All is wight."

Yes. All was right at that moment on my Christmas Eve because of God's choice to be with me.

As if God hadn't communicated His message enough, He sealed it with a real hug and kiss. My doorbell rang about 7:00 PM. It was Annie Beth on the way to her church. She'd forgotten some vital accessories for her Kit doll. It couldn't have been more than a minute. It was more than enough.

As Gay would say, "Thinking with you again about Emmanuel. Hoping that you too, will keep your eyes and heart open for His presence in your life. He is with us and delights in our presence as well. See you next week."

Merry Christmas friends. ~lori

PS. Here are the YogaMen that were gift worthy

Sunday, December 16, 2012

God WITH us

Dear Friends,

I spoke briefly with Gay yesterday and she sounded leagues better than when I left last Sunday. She is expected to go home at the end of this next week. She continues to gain strength in her various forms of therapy. She is very grateful for all of the love and support she has received from so many loved ones.

I'm weary this evening as I write. It's not a physical fatigue. It's that kind of soul-aching for others that makes even the simplest of tasks cumbersome. Words are not flowing because I simply cannot find a place in me that can comprehend the horrific event on Friday in Connecticut. The magnitude of one event.

I am still in shock that my mother has breast cancer--the same kind my sister had 7 years ago. I cannot believe that one of Annie Beth's best eleven year old friends has a rare disease that has caused an aneurysm in her heart. I listen as a friend tells of a funeral of a 19 year old killed in a car accident. I paused at the mall and saw hundreds of left over tags on an angel Christmas tree--representations of children who won't have anything under the tree. Then moments later saw a line zigzagging across and outside The Coach Store. Most people, I noticed were buying multiple purses that cost hundreds of dollars apiece.

Everywhere I look there is suffering. The  "most wonderful time of the year?" Who wrote that song anyway?This is one of those times when, if circumstances were different, I'd have called Gay and said, "Gay, can you help me understand?"

I've read several compassionate and comforting responses from some respected writers. I'd like to quote a prayer that Max Lucado published in The Huffington Post :

Dear Jesus,
It's a good thing you were born at night. This world sure seems dark. I have a good eye for silver linings. But they seem dimmer lately.
These killings, Lord. These children, Lord. Innocence violated. Raw evil demonstrated.
The whole world seems on edge. Trigger-happy. Ticked off. We hear threats of chemical weapons and nuclear bombs. Are we one button-push away from annihilation?
Your world seems a bit darker this Christmas. But you were born in the dark, right? You came at night. The shepherds were nightshift workers. The Wise Men followed a star. Your first cries were heard in the shadows. To see your face, Mary and Joseph needed a candle flame. It was dark. Dark with Herod's jealousy. Dark with Roman oppression. Dark with poverty. Dark with violence.
Herod went on a rampage, killing babies. Joseph took you and your mom into Egypt. You were an immigrant before you were a Nazarene.
Oh, Lord Jesus, you entered the dark world of your day. Won't you enter ours? We are weary of bloodshed. We, like the wise men, are looking for a star. We, like the shepherds, are kneeling at a manger.
This Christmas, we ask you, heal us, help us, be born anew in us.
Your Children

I join with Max Lucado and call upon Emmanuel, God with us. And in His with-ing He calls on us to partner with Him. Astonishing.

I cannot be in Denver. But, in His with-ing, God assures me that Gay is not alone. She is beloved by countless people who will, in any way possible, help. 

I do not live in Connecticut. I can ask Emmanuel to be with each person left behind--that His with-ing would be supernatural and tangible.

I cannot diminish the loss and fear that as a family we all feel for my mother. I can, however, thank God that she does not require chemotherapy. I am comforted as well that the Holy Spirit lives within Mom.

I am ineffably grateful that we serve a God that loves us so much that He came into this evil and broken world to be with us.

I also pray, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus." Come take us home with you.

As Gay would say, "Thinking with you about how God is with us and how we can be an expression of His with-ing. See you next week."

Blessings to each of you. ~lori

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Comfort of Presence

December 9, 2012

Dear Friends,

This is Lori writing for Gay once again. I have the great privilege of writing at least a portion of this post as I’m comfortably seated in Gay’s room in her temporary residence at a skilled nursing facility. She is here to recuperate, gain strength, and receive physical and occupational therapy. I have been astonished at how well she has done since my arrival on Thursday.

Having worked in facilities of this kind back in another part of my life, I am in agreement with Gay that she is receiving excellent care from the kind and qualified staff.  At this point, we expect that she will remain for around two weeks. I will cover this post for her until she feels able to write once again. (Notice I said, “cover”, NO ONE can fill her shoes!)

I’ve been thinking about the idea of what it means to be fully present with someone since I was here in Denver the last time. I’m not at all clear about what I’m seeing. I’m thinking aloud with y’all. (Yes, I am a Texan.) I watched something so powerful that I was changed. It was so intimate that I felt intrusive, as though even writing of it now mars the moment. Perhaps I’ll get locked in a loony bin; but, I know it in a physical sense as well. My body knows what it’s like to simply be present by watching two sisters and a cat.

If you read Gay’s blog regularly you are familiar with her beloved cat, Miss Annie. You may not know that Miss Annie was Gay’s sister’s cat first. Miss Annie came to live in Denver when Beth moved into a long term health care facility. As an act of love, Gay adopted Miss Annie. Gay had never owned a cat and had some trepidation as to whether she could properly care for her sister’s cat-child. Gay understood cognitively it was important that her sister fully trust that Annie was receiving excellent care. Gay’s effort in the beginning was based in a deep abiding love for her only sister. She, with great wisdom, shared daily Miss Annie stories with Beth. Beth, often disoriented, coupled with knowing she was living in a strange and foreign land, would often gain clarity when Gay talked about Miss Annie. Even without clarity, it always brought joy to Beth hearing about her cat.  What began as devotion and commitment to a sister grew into a new source of love and companionship for Gay as well.

Only God.

I’m not exactly sure when Gay and Beth began Skyping each evening. By the time I arrived that Fall weekend, they had established their routine. Their daily Skyping appointment is a technological marvel that allows the distance between Kansas and Colorado almost negligible. Rather than simply telling stories about the cat, Miss Annie has become a part of the nightly conversations. At the established time, Miss Annie, lured by treats and a brush, sits in front of the computer camera and Beth gets to see her kitty cat.  Correction, their cat.

The evening I was there, Beth’s brain and her words were not synchronizing. Gay knew this early into their time together. Instead of asking Beth some series of frustrating questions, she commented only on what Beth asked or said. Most of the ten-fifteen minute call was spent in silence--Beth watching and loving her cat and her sister. Beth watching the cat eat bribery treats. Beth watching as her cat was brushed. I watched her affect of confusion and concern replaced with peace and contentment. When Miss Annie abruptly decided to end her portion of the Skype call, as all cat royalty are entitled, it was then that I experienced an even more visceral moment of presence.

I expected that the conversation would end. Pleasantries would be exchanged, plans made for tomorrow. Good night. That is not at all what happened. Instead, Beth looked directly as Gay’s image on her screen in Kansas and said, “Sister.” I immediately knew this was Beth’s preferred name for Gay. I watched Gay in two images, her profile in front of me and her image on the computer screen in a tiny corner box. Beth’s image was full screen. Both smiling, the same lovely closed lipped smile, I saw their eyes awash in brimming tears. Neither spoke--the eye contact constant.

It was a sacred moment. They cherished one another without words.

I couldn’t tell you how long it lasted. I know it was longer than I, if it had been me, could have held such an intimate space without words.

This language of the heart spoken was more powerful than words could have expressed. Words were not necessary. It was certainly more than my clumsy words can articulate. Hollywood would cue music to emphasize the beauty. Yet, I knew this moment was the music.

Miss Annie, as do other animals, helps us understand the power of wordless presence. Mary Rose O’Reilly writes in The Barn at the End of the World, “I grew up at the intersection of narrative and silence.” I believe with all my heart that God gave us animals and flowers and mountains and acorns to help us know something of His love. No words to comprehend. Yet volumes of His tender loving care for each of us to know and experience.

She writes also, “With animals, it’s safe, and pertinent, to have no edges.” Call me crazy, once again; but, Miss Annie laid the groundwork that day for boundless love, intimacy, and comfort. The curious part is that she can never, ever comprehend any of these concepts or words. She simply is.

My purpose in coming to Denver was wrapped up in one package, sort of. I came to make sure that Gay was not alone in her temporary home while Laura is out of town. I also came to love and care for Miss Annie. By loving Miss Annie, I love Gay as well.

I saw a cat wandering the care center the first day. I spoke with an administrator and was delighted Gay is in a place that understands the comfort of presence. Vaccinated pets are allowed to visit during the day. Gay wasn’t so sure it was a good idea to bring Miss Annie when I told her about my plans. I trusted my instinct and forged ahead.  In this case, pictures speak more powerfully. 

As Gay would say, “Thinking with you about the power of presence and how we make meaning in that intersection between dialogue and silence. See you next week.”

PS. Your thoughts and comments are appreciated, especially wishes of love and comfort for Gay. She needs our continued love, prayers, and support. She is a gift and a treasure.  ~lori

P.P.S.  Gay is not particularly pleased with her hair in these shots. I am reassuring her that anyone who is concerned about her hair does not read her blog....maybe that person, should, though. ; )

Miss Annie and I ran into Santa and Mrs. Claus on our way out today! She is like many toddlers and chose not to sit in Santa's lap!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Grace and more grace

Dear Friends,

This is Lori Clark writing again for Gay. Even at 81, Gay leads an active, productive life. She still sees clients and ministers to others daily. Beth's journey of slowly dying has been a source of daily concern and exhaustion, not only for those caring for her in Kansas; but, for Gay as well. Gay entered into this cold and flu season spent. What was an annoying cold progressed this past week and landed her in the hospital for a brief stay. She is home recuperating with the loving help of dear friends that had planned an annual trip to help her prepare for Christmas. Special blessings to them. A shout out of daily gratitude to Laura B. for being hands and feet and heart and brain and whatever else she can be to and for Gay. I'd ask you, as another friend of Gay to pray for continued recovery and strength for her. I will post again for Gay if she isn't up to the task next week. Blessings to all of you. ~lori

Sunday, November 25, 2012

For better or worse?

November 25, 2012

Dear Friends,

Life is not fair.

Beginning with this cliché may shrink the number of readers to a record low this week. There is a reason for the risk, however.

Our emotional aversion to unfairness can be a major contributor to relational difficulties. Despite our resistance to injustice, confronting life’s essential unfairness straight-on is a necessary step in self-awareness. Failure to deal with this reality seriously undermines the skills of self-management necessary for development of good relationships.

Last week we considered the “Green Eggs and Ham” phenomenon—our rejection of portions of our emotional archives because we both dislike these uncomfortable contents and are often confused as well by their shape and power to influence us. But we dislike them additionally for another reason: they provide indisputable living evidence that life is unfair, a particularly unattractive dish of green eggs and ham.

The terrible years of the dust storms, the poverty of the depression years, the death of my mother—all of these experiences are etched inerasably in my emotional archives along with the meaning that I made to serve as context to these experiences. Although these life events were filled with drama and intensity, they are difficult to revisit for two reasons: one—easy to see—the content includes the pain, loneliness, fear and confusion inherent in those early childhood experiences. These contents, initially painful, remain deeply unpleasant to experience in retrospect. The second reason, while less obvious, is equally uncomfortable and unavoidable—these events confront me with the harsh reality of life’s brutal unfairness.

Why did the dirt come and smother Spot, the baby calf with the soft ears? Was that fair? Why did my beautiful mother whose hands made bread and whose voice made music die and leave me? What that fair? And why did I have to wear old shoes that hurt my feet? Was it fair that I not have new shoes? My childhood meaning was that the world was dangerously unfair; my adolescent meaning was that if God loved justice, then He did not love me or He would have insured more fairness in my life. My adult meaning was that if I wanted fairness in my life, I would have to insure that it happened—no one else would do it for me, so I set out to get “my fair share of the pie.”

But when I entered into my first “love” relationship as an adult, I bought into the fairy tale expectations of romance: this person—wonderful in all regards, of course—this person would insure that I never experienced unfairness again. Among many other unverbalized impossible things, that was what “love” meant.

No one will be surprised to learn that this relationship ended disastrously. However, the disaster is not the point upon which I want to focus here. I want you to think with me about the belief system that formed the unspoken context of the disaster—the belief that “love” can (and will) alter the reality of the world in which we live, and cancel the impact of the bent and broken aspects of our human personhood.

No matter with what intensity we cling to this "impossible dream," reality remains the raw material out of which we must shape our lives. Life is unfair, people are imperfect, and relationships can neither cancel the reality nor erase the impact of the emotional archives with which we live.

 This is a very un-fairy tale truth.  But once we have faced this fact straight-on, we can begin to develop both self-awareness and a clearer sense of self-responsibility. Living well relationally requires us to assume specifically and consciously our basic human responsibility to live with each other the way we are. Relationships do not provide a “maturity pass.” Indeed, mutually supportive relationships are in some aspects the by-product of accepting the life-long necessity to live with productive, sober joy in a world where our hunger for both justice and mercy can never be met in full.

Relationships cannot substitute for the unavoidable necessity to come to grips with human limitations, and the unfair, unkind and sometimes destructive acts that express our human brokenness. And we cannot escape awareness that the universe around us that gives the gift of beauty and life gives as well the stone cold destructiveness of death.

Relational skills that permit long, mutually constructive caring connections are those that are forged in full awareness of the unfairness of the natural phenomena in which our fragile life span is lived, and the injustice that stems inevitably from the human brokenness that all of us carry.

How do you deal with unfairness? How do you handle the "undeserved" in relationships?

Clear thinking about unfairness does not deal with pain alone, however.

Thinking with you that the friendship, laughter, and marvelous food that graced my life and table Thanksgiving Day were unfair too. And there was “unfair” beauty into the bargain as well: “unfair” flowers and candle light, and the "unfair" sensual delight of the satin heavy weight of a silver fork in my hand.  Now who can explain that?

See you next week.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Green Eggs and Ham?

November 18, 2012

Dear Friends,

Self-awareness entails a messy and disorganized process much of the time.

While the process remains a quintessential part of the fully lived life, most of us do not experience self-inspection as an enjoyable form of rest and recreation. We do not like the process in part, of course, because there is a great deal of painful and difficult experience stashed away in the archives of memory along with the joys and successes we have experienced. But we dislike the process for another reason: the archives of memory are compiled in ways that defy analytical logic.

After a bit of intensive excavation in our inner world, we may find ourselves echoing the opinion of the Cat in the Hat:
“I do not like green eggs and ham;
I do not like them, Sam I Am.”
We often find ourselves adding in exasperation, “…And how did the eggs get green anyway? Did I ever see a green egg in real life? This is absurd and a waste of time.”

The fact that something seems consciously absurd does not mean, of course, that it is unreal or unimportant. It means that we do not have a working cognitive context in ordinary life for the events and feelings that we have uncovered in our inner archives of meaning and memory. Often we do not recognize—at least initially—that what we are dealing with is the past that has surfaced in the present.

At one point in my work, I saw couples who were seeking help with difficulties in their relationship that their problem-solving efforts had not been able to resolve. One couple (Jack and Sally, for the purposes of this story) explained in the initial interview that their conflict pivoted around Sally’s alleged failure to “support” Jack in his career path, and Jack’s alleged failure to “support” Sally in the stress and demands of parenting three lively boys alone while Jack was traveling on corporate business.

The “green eggs and ham” in Sally’s archives included an alcoholic father whose frequent absences from home left Sally, her younger sister, and her frail frightened mother at economic and emotional risk. The “green eggs and ham” in Jack’s emotional archives included a harsh and unrewarding childhood with a critical, demanding father for whom Jack could never do enough to win approval and recognition.

As outsiders it is not difficult for us to see that for Sally the challenges of “single” parenting in Jack’s absence were real and not easily solved. It is not difficult for us to understand as well that for Jack the long weeks away from family in the context of the cut-throat corporate competition made week-ends with family a needed space for rest and recuperation.

What is less easy to identify, however, is the ways in which the past had oozed into the present for both Sally and Jack. Without conscious awareness, Sally’s definition of ‘support’ included a wordless expectation that “if Jack really loved me he would make all my old feelings of abandonment go away.” Similarly, Jack’s wordless expectation included marriage as a relationship in which he would never be criticized again.

Some of the problems Jack and Sally faced required practical problem solving. Computer and telephone could increase Jack’s participation in parenting throughout the week away. Sally could make Jack’s home-coming different. She could reduce the litany of problems and the critical non-verbal message of neglect with which she greeted Jack on his return. They could together both recognize Jack’s economic achievement, and consider whether the standard of living that Jack’s job permitted the family to enjoy was worth the cost to the family of the travel time Jack was required to invest.

But there were two things they could not do.

Jack could not make the marriage relationship erase the emotional archives left by his father’s critical rejection and his mother’s passive acceptance of his father’s emotional abuse.

Sally could not make the marriage relationship erase the archives of abandonment that her alcoholic father had left as a part of his emotional legacy.

Can a present relationship modify the impact of past experience? Of course—thankfully. Can present relationships erase the archives of past experience? No—and no amount of wishful thinking or abortive effort can make this happen.

It remains each individual’s responsibility to manage the past as it emerges within a present relationship through self-awareness and conscious acts of self-care. Present relationships provide rich resources and rewarding companionship as we learn to live with the emotional legacy of our past. However, it is an invitation to relational disaster if we expect friend, lover, spouse, sibling, parent, casual acquaintance or business colleague to erase the archives and their contents. Living constructively with the legacy of past experience remains the life-long responsibility of every individual.

What expectations in relationships do you have? Are you expecting present relationships to erase, rewrite, or reframe painful pieces of your past?

Thinking with you today about the incredible gift of relationships: they can indeed help us reframe the meaning of the past. Thinking too, however, that we produce disastrous relational consequences when we think that erase or rewrite are the same thing as reframe.

See you next week.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

There and Home Again

November 11, 2012

Dear Friends,

Somewhere in my hoarded collection of significant objects is a set of “worry beads” that a colleague brought me when he returned from a sabbatical in Greece. At first glance, the object looks somewhat like a secular rosary. Polished amber beads separated by tiny gold beads are strung on a fine gold chain that ends with an intricate final knot of chain and small chunks of raw amber. But "worry beads" are not a religious object. As my friend understood it, "worry beads" were designed as an aid and discipline to “telling your worries one at a time.”

I have kept the worry beads because they are beautiful both to see and to touch. But I have never used them to “tell my worries” for several reasons. While the beads are a useful reminder that dealing with one thing at a time is often a wise procedure, I do not think it is helpful to “tell” troubles by counting separately every single piece in every specific pile of difficulty with which we may be confronted. Counting in this fashion can easily contribute to a sense of being overwhelmed. It can lead to the kind of thinking that Albert North Whitehead warned against when he said, “Beware of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.” Counting every single place where the roof is leaking does not necessarily produce the energy or ingenuity required to initiate roof repair.

But beyond the emotional risk entailed in “telling” over a litany of trouble, this process distorts what may be the most difficult dimension of managing the difficulties we face in life and in relationships. While we may choose to deal with one issue at a time, we rarely, if ever, have the luxury of dealing with an issue that is unconnected to other aspects of life. Life indeed does happen while we are busy doing (and thinking) about something else, as the old adage says, but to complicate matters further, life happens in plural, not singular, so to speak. The storm that damages the roof often happens the same week that the hot water heater fails and the car insurance comes due. Counting the specific leaks in the roof does not necessarily produce a practical sense of the broader context in which the roof problem must be considered. While it is certainly ridiculous to attempt simultaneously to mend the roof, write a check for insurance, and replace the hot water heater, it is the difficulty of managing a life space in which all three tasks must be dealt with that provides the challenge.

This example pivots around an imagined householder’s list of challenges that are commonplace, ordinary and concrete. In contrast, the things with which we must deal simultaneously in relationships are not so easily seen nor understood, and are infinitely more complex. Further, we must deal with them not as single beads on the string of living, but as the sum of life experiences by which we are shaped.

As I wrote earlier, I carry into relationships the memory of that terrible April dust storm, the eerie light, my frightened parents, and memory meaning that I made: the world is unreliable: it can be dark in the afternoon, and dirt, not rain, can fall from the skies. I knew too, somehow, that the dirt covered some of the cattle and they died although my parents did the best that they could to keep this fact from me.

Then three years later my beautiful mother, who sang wonderful songs and filled the kitchen with the smell of baking bread, died. One stormy April night, I went to bed frightened because my mother was sick and I was not permitted to sleep in my bed in my parents's room. I woke up to a world in which I would never hear her voice again, never feel her tuck me in to sleep. My world had turned upside down, and I was now alone to make my way in a world in which there was no mother to comfort when there were bad dreams in the dark, and no one to teach hope by stories in which things did turn out happily in the end.

The ways in which the long shadow of these events—together, not just one at a time—cast a long shadow into my adult life and relationships are oblique and often appear disassociated to others. I choose to have three cans of coffee in the pantry, and I seek both to be gentle with myself and self-controlled in living out my understanding of this. Nevertheless, it can prove difficult at times to respond graciously when others tease about my tendency “to hoard.” While my curiosity leads me at times into adventures that reflect the “Tookish” part of me, my personal traveling songs, like those of Bilbo the Hobbit, end with the adventurer’s arrival home, “There and Back Again.”

“I have never know anyone who loves coming home to her own bed like you do,” a friend recently remarked as we arrived back from an out-of state trip to a conference.  “H-m-m,” I answered. It was one of those insightful observations that require either a very long explanation or no comment at all.

Would you expect a relationship that required me to “live out of a suitcase” for long, indefinite periods of time to be an easy one for me? What are the combinations of experience that most powerfully shape your choices? Can you describe to yourself the way this shows in your relationships?

Thinking with you that those things that we seek in present relationships can sometimes carry a dangerous unacknowledged debt to the past.

See you next week.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Rulebooks without words?

November 4, 2012

Dear Friends,

Life happens, the old cliché warns us, while we are doing something else. And in a somewhat similar fashion, our rule book for relationships is shaped wordlessly while we are engaged in living and talking about something else.

“Do you really have a rulebook for relationships?” a friend asked dubiously after reading last week’s blog. “I don’t think many people do.”

Perhaps guide book is a more helpful phrase than rule book, but everyone does indeed have an internal guide book that shapes the way relationships are formed and managed. Relationship difficulties can (and do) spring from faulty beliefs that form the content of this internal guidebook, of course. But dealing with content (good or bad) requires us first to grapple with the frustrating challenge of translating our internal wordless guidebook into language, making words for what we sense as truth so that we can consciously think and choose about the ways in which we relate.

A colleague in graduate school was the intellectually brilliant child of two college professors, one of whom was a closet alcoholic, and the other a gifted enabler for the alcoholic partner. In the world in which Nancy [not her actual name] grew into adulthood, tolerance of human differences was a highly valued trait. She was taught, “It is wrong to judge the behaviors of others; live and let live.” Consequently, Nancy’s relational guidebook contained a wordless rule: when others do things that hurt you (for example, turn up intoxicated at your birthday party), you must not say anything—you must give them, uncritically, the right to behave as they choose even when their behavior is hurtful to you. No objections permitted.

Would you be surprised to learn that Nancy’s relational history included “friendships” in which others took unfair advantage? Nancy was the recipient of a family trust, but it was not her generous family allowance that made Nancy an easy mark. It was not a personal approval of violence as such that made Nancy tolerate abusive behavior from others. The problem lay in Nancy’s wordless rule that she could not object to the behavior of others nor place limits upon their behaviors. Initially Nancy had little if any conscious understanding of this, however. Relationships in her life reflected people “just doing what people do,” and Nancy responding in the way that “any tolerant person” would behave.

One day early in our clinical training, a supervisor bluntly confronted Nancy. “Why do you tolerate such abusive behavior from that client?” the supervisor demanded. “Where are your boundaries?”

Nancy was annoyed and somewhat insulted by the question. Talking about it later with me, Nancy said, “I was fortunate; I had parents who taught me to be more tolerant than the majority of people. Bad behavior just doesn’t bother me.”

During training, the process of bringing her wordless rule of “no objection permitted” into words required a great deal of personal struggle for Nancy. Forming relationships characterized by mutual concern for mutual well-being will perhaps never be automatic for Nancy—early learning retains surprising power throughout a lifetime. But once Nancy was able to put her “rule” into words, she could establish a conscious relational guideline that included both true tolerance and the necessary boundaries required for responsible self-care. Learning to practice the new rule was not a simple matter, but for Nancy the pay-off in mutually beneficial relationships was well worth the struggle.

Thinking with you today that it is a life-long challenge to understand the meaning we have made of the experiences we have lived. I can readily remember my Dustbowl Depression childhood in the Kansas prairie, but I am still uncovering the wordless rules I crafted out of that experience I lived.

As life happens this week, become self-aware. Watch yourself being you, and take a quiet moment to consider: what wordless rule might you have been following just then as you acted in that way? What have you lived that translated into the wordless guideline that may have shaped that relational moment? How can you say the sensed "truth" you just acted on?
Knowledge describes the journey; wisdom knows what the journey means.

See you next week.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Yesterday's storm today

October 28, 2012

Dear Friends,

The Worst Hard Time is Timothy Egan’s riveting story of the dust storms that terrorized the High Plains during the darkest years of the Depression. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. It is, as Walter Cronkite described it, “can’t-put-it-down history.” As one reviewer noted, Egan catches the voices of the survivors and the grit, pathos, and courage of their stories. And he catches too the way that these people themselves and their world were changed forever.

When I first opened Egan’s book, I halted for a long time in the introduction. I was mesmerized by the map Egan had labeled simply, “The Dustbowl.” Eventually, hesitantly, I put my finger on the spot where my family lived and I grew to adulthood. My sister was not yet a year old on April 14, 1935, the day of the worst dust storm of all. I remember clearly my frightened mother tacking damp sheets to the window in an effort to keep the dust out of the room where she napped in her crib.

Egan gives a frightening context to that day. He writes:

The storm carried twice as much dirt as was dug out of the earth to create the Panama Canal. The canal took seven years to dig. The storm lasted a single afternoon. More than 300,000 tons of Great Plains topsoil was airborne that day.
But seventy-five years later, I could only read a chapter or two at a time of Egan’s account of that massive upheaval of the very earth itself. For me it was more than a story—it was my story, and, reading, I could see again in my mind the eerie light fleeing ahead of the darkness of the storm, and hear my father’s voice saying, “Let the dog in. Keep him in here with us. God help the cattle—I don’t think even God can keep them alive through this.”

Last week a young friend gave me the gift of an afternoon of her energy to de-clutter and clean my kitchen cabinets. She was so efficient that we had time (and her energy) to tackle the pantry cabinet in the garage where I store basic foodstuffs and extra supplies.

She was singing to herself as she worked, but after a while she turned and said, “Forgive me if I am being rude, but why do you have three three-pound cans of coffee in here? I know you drink a lot of coffee, but this much?”

I laughed with her, and made some silly joke about my hidden identity as a closet caffeine hoarder. Had I wished to be factually concrete, I might have added (accurately) “And because I lived through April 14, 1935.” That is, of course, not all my story, and from other contexts, likely not the most important event. Nevertheless, seventy-five years later, that long-passed April day, its eerie light and the terrible afternoon darkness that followed, lives on in a caffeine shadow in my storage space. Would it have changed my relationship with my young friend if I had shared that long-ago event?

When we consider relational skills, we are confronted with the necessity to manage those things that remain when the experience itself has ended. And we are confronted as well with the ways in which we have woven these remaining things into our sense of the world and the relational goals we set for ourselves and others.

It is not an easy task to know ourselves at this level, and still more difficult to identify consciously the ways in which our past is present in relationships, our expectations, our joys and our frustrations. And managing these remainders in relationships is a lifelong responsibility that no one else can carry for us.

In that Dustbowl Depression world I learned two things: terrible things happen; and, two, people do survive. How do you suppose that learning affects my “rule book” for relationships?

What do you identify as the two most definitive life experiences that have shaped your relational rule book?

See you next week.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Off sides?

October 21, 2012

Dear Friends,

A warm thank you to Lori for last week’s fine blog. I did have one concern, however—I couldn’t place either the content or the composition in her suggested context of “first-grade.” Lori, the life-long learner, yes, I could see that. But “first grader”—actually, I saw no evidence at all of that.

Lori regularly writes “Fairy Godmother’s Dust” [her own blog], so in retrospect I could see an unintended irony in asking her to author this piece. Learning to deal constructively with injury in relationships requires confrontation with our favorite fairy-tale ending. We want to believe that the story reports fact: that people do indeed live “happily ever after.” Maybe, but not so much, as Fairy Godmother herself has pointed out.

Relational skill at this point requires well-developed emotional peripheral vision. We must be able to see ourselves—no small task—while seeing out of “the corner of our eye,” so to speak, the responses of others.  Conversely, we must be able to see others—both their acts and the half-hidden inner worlds from which their actions spring—while keeping clear out of “the corner of our eye” that the reality of ourselves (both who we are and what we do) may lie in a “blind spot” for others.

In relationships, we will both injure others and be injured through ignorance, and by both accident and intention, as Lori pointed out. We can choose to manage injury so that it is minimized; we can choose to manage injury so that it transforms the experience into compassion, insight and patience. We can shape the impact, we can alter the consequence, we can utilize pain for self-transformation and growth, but we cannot avoid it. In real relationships, there are no uncomplicated, unlimited, effort-free tomorrows of over-the-rainbow living.

Lonely people are often believers in the happy-ever-after ending who hang on the fairy tale in defiance of their own experience. They continue to be shocked when injury happens to them as though their personhood itself exempts them from the reality of relationships.

They argue (usually with anger), “I certainly didn’t deserve that.”

They take little responsibility for injury they cause. “I couldn’t help that.” “That’s her/his problem. I’m just being who I am.” “You don’t know the whole story. It wasn’t my fault—he/she asked for it.”

Their sense of their loneliness reflects unjustified (and sometimes "unexplainable") injury. Their stories reflect a sad, often bewildered sense that they deserved and would have had a “lived happily ever after” ending if only the rest of the world had been willing to play by their rules.

Spectators remain spectators. Whatever their passionate emotional investment in the game, as spectators they are only virtual participants. They avoid the bruises and injuries that may come as the result of a hard-played game. They may envy or admire the players but they can only imagine the comaraderie of those who, whatever the outcome, play the game and risk the outcome.

In life as in games, however, there are rules for a reason. A well-played game is hedged about by rules and protective gear designed to minimize injury. Few sensible people choose to enter a game with those who do not know the rules, or who hold themselves exempt from the requirement to abide by them. Wise people rarely enter deliberately into relationships (or games) without some protective gear whether that gear is knowledge, skill, or physical ‘stuff.’

In relationships as in games, not everyone knows how to play; not everyone is willing to keep the rules. Consequently, it is well to choose partners in relationships wisely. But it is vital to remember as well that whatever the skill level and the willingness to “play by the rules,” in relationships no one is immune from the potential injury that lies inherent in the nature of life itself.

Thinking with you today that in our culture thousands of people can identify an “off sides” in football but who do not realize that a “rule book” for relationships even exists.

What are the rules in your rule book for relationships?

See you next week.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Hello Gay's Friends,

This is Lori writing for Gay while she is in Kansas with Beth. I've been pondering since last week what I might have to say that would be true, helpful, and remotely interesting about my experience in relationships that injure. Much more, I've been very concerned about the integrity of both the people whom I have injured as well as those who have been hurtful to me. While Miss Annie provides compelling stories and such vivid examples of relational topics, she is safe from injured feelings. Although she is quite brilliant, reading is a skill she has not acquired to date.

I'd like to preface that I am fully aware that I have been and will be--to my dismay-- the perpetrator of injury in relationship. I have at times injured with full intention to hurt and harm. I take no pride in admitting this. There are other times when I wasn't even aware that I was causing pain to another person. There were also those times when I knew my behavior hurt another person, I just didn't know how to not behave in that particular way. There have been relationships where the tap root of the connection was based on mutually poor relational skills with one another. 

I'm feeling quite vulnerable writing because I have said aloud multiple times lately, "I'm FINALLY in first grade in relationship school!" If you consider yourself in college or graduate school, feel free to ignore me or be excited that there are grown-ups in the world who take seriously the business of learning and loving.

Before I could even begin to understand the dynamics of the important relationships in my life, I had to learn two things: 
1. Boundaries.
2. What made me who and what I was. I needed to understand my history so that I could make informed, deliberate decisions to do life in different ways.

When Gay Hubbard mentioned the idea of a boundary to me in 1990, I had a school book knowledge of what that meant. I knew boundaries in a professional social work context. I didn't know that a boundary was something I should apply to my life. I wish I could report that some 22 years later, I'm an expert in explaining and applying healthy boundaries. I've grown from infancy to, as mentioned before, first grade. When rested and intentional I can understand the significance of setting a boundary by saying no. I can even accept the consequences that may result in my saying no. I can let go of what is my responsibility and what is the other person's. 


Catch me when I'm exhausted, or cranky and I might say yes just because it's easier in the short term than setting a boundary. I also know that my healthy boundary can be perceived and felt as intentional harm to another person. That's very, very hard for me to accept. It's even harder for me to accept that some of my boundaries will permanently change a relationship. Some relationships cannot survive healthy boundaries. 

I'm still learning. Sometimes, I'm still "learnin' the hard way", as my Memo often says. 

Learning about boundaries while trying to understand my own wounded-ness was a powerful combination. I began understanding why I am drawn to certain kinds of people. In turn, I could see why they were attracted to me. I learned that there are other options of relating than the ones modeled for me, intentionally or by proxy, in my family of origin. Over time I have found that I am far more gracious and willing to be merciful when I realize that so many that I love are ignorant of their own internal history and how it impacts their relationship with me. This knowledge also informs how deeply I am involved with those people. I learned from Gay that not everyone is helpful in the journey. Her voice resonates, "Choose wisely."

I am so grateful that Gay has chosen to invest in my life. It's my heart's desire to shower her with the fruit my life produces based on her work with a seedling. I may be a young tree; but, through her investment in teaching and training me, I am beginning to see stability and grounded-ness that will, I hope produce fruit.

Gay will be back next week. Thanks for reading the scribbles of a first grader. ~lori

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Miss Annie and the string

October 6, 2012

Dear friends,

This week my “golden string” did not appear to be anything at all like a golden string. In fact, an event in the life I share with Miss Annie made the string idea of William Stafford and William Blake appear totally irrelevant to daily living, and no fit subject for a blog. The end turned out differently than the beginning, however, which was a good thing.

The event that initially produced such a poor substitute for a golden string was NOT poetic in any form. It resulted from an activity in Miss Annie’s hidden life that, once revealed, left me in a fully developed stage of aggravation rather than a state of contemplation. Further, it left me strongly inclined to initiate a stern conversation with Miss Annie as soon as I could find her, and to restrict her access to the treat jar for two whole days. This is what occurred.

One day while cleaning I discovered that when safely out of my sight and hearing Miss Annie has entertained herself by converting a corner of the sofa in the study into a heavily used scratching post. The sofa, poor thing, has suffered damage that cannot be repaired. It must live out its remaining life carrying its Annie-induced scars. Given this event, what would you predict about the on-going relationship between Miss Annie and me?

Knowing that I have warm affection for this cat that through no choice of her own has come to live with me, some of you may suppose that I will say, “Oh, Miss Annie, it’s only a sofa and this damage doesn’t matter.” There is some truth in that—and I do understand that eternal issues do not hinge around damage to upholstery.

However, others of you who know another side of me may say, “Miss Annie, loved or not, you’ve stepped over the line. You are in big trouble.” And there is truth in that as well: it is not in my nature or thinking to regard Annie’s destructive behavior casually or to ignore it.

Still others of you, those who understand my belief that the test of our theology lies in the everyday events of living, are certain to raise an awkward question: “What do you think you [Gay] need to think about? Granted that flower blubs are more pleasant, suppose that Miss Annie’s destructive behavior is the end of a string (golden or not). Where do you think it leads?”

It leads, of course, to the difficult question of injury in relationships, and to the options that we have in response.

What do you believe are the possible options open to you in response to injury? The desirable responses for you?

You have a bit of time to think about these questions since I will not be back with you until October 21. However, Lori will be with you next week, and I hope will share with you from the experience and wisdom she has gained in living through relationships that injure.

Despite our realistic knowledge of this bent and broken world we often dream of relationships in which love makes pain impossible. Thinking with you that it is difficult to develop skills for handling injury while dreaming of relationships in which injury cannot happen.

You will see Lori next week. I'll see you October 21.


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bulbs and the golden string

September 30, 2012

Dear friends,

William Stafford (and, before him, William Blake) had an idea of something they called the “golden string.” By this they meant that if we truly think about the smallest thing, that we will find ourselves led to a deep sense of the world and of ourselves within the network of life in which we are embodied.

One day this week I found myself holding the end of a golden string. Actually, I was holding two flower bulbs in my hand (one a dahlia, the other an allium bulb). Here is where my “golden string” led me.

-I hold two small morsels of life and latent beauty in my hand.
-Both bulbs contain life, but very different forms of life.
-I cannot see in the present appearance of these bulbs the life that may emerge.
-Each bulb requires a different environment in which to survive and prosper.
-Effective gardening requires knowledge of the seed and the soil and the complex interaction between the two.
-I cannot provide the sunlight and air that this life requires. The life of the bulbs, like my life, is dependent upon our life-sustaining God.
-But as a gardener, I can carefully place each bulb in that place where, so far as my knowledge permits, I enhance the potential of each life to grow and flourish.
-I cannot by personal effort or autocratic edict insure that growth with occur, and beauty bloom.  It does not lie in my power to order alliums to display their tall purple beauty against that old brick wall. I can assist and nurture life, but I cannot cause it.
-Nurturing relationships requires a kind of gardening. I cannot insure that a relationship will grow and flourish. I can, however, with thoughtful prayerful attention provide as best I can an environment in which those who share life space with me grow and flourish.
-For each of us, our growing up and growing together is ultimately a matter of relationship with God. But at the same time, we need to remain mindful of our uniqueness: allium by the brick wall, dahlias in the corner near the gate.
-Do I sometimes expect friends to flourish in the soil that I like best?
Wondering where your “golden string” has led you this week. In handling small things what have you discovered about relationships and life?

See you next week.



Sunday, September 23, 2012

Green now?

September 23, 2012

Dear friends,

Much of fall gardening centers around after-harvest clean-up. Trips to the compost pile carry remains of the richness of summer past. The vines that once nourished tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers are brown now. Stalks that once held marigolds, cosmos, and those green bells of Ireland, all go now to enrich the soil that in another summer will flourish with fruit and flowers again.

The nostalgia of autumn, its pattern of color that flares then fades, the quiet resignation of fallow soil that waits the winter snow, all this we know at a level beyond words that speaks to us of the turning seasons of our own lives.

But there is more to fall gardening than dealing with harvest past. There is also the joyful crisis precipitated by those counter-intuitive perennials.

This year my favorite nursery held an autumn sale of perennials that I permitted to overwhelm my common sense. I left the store with a cart filled with new plants. As I loaded them into my car I had to admit that my ability to see the power of the plants to produce beauty was considerably larger than my ability to get them in the ground so that they could in fact grow. Fortunately (for me and the plants, that is—not so much for her) my young friend arrived to visit, and with generous heart and strong back, agreed to rescue the plants from the prisons of their plastic pots and set them safely into the soil of their new garden home.

When she finished the task my friend looked over the day’s work and commented: “This certainly looks different to you than it does to me. I see these new green plants settled into holes I dug and they just look funny to me, and kind of out of place with autumn all around.”

My friend was seeing both the beauty and the challenge of perennials. For the visionary, trailing brown remains of annual petunia plants on the compost pile evokes a picture of other petunias yet to be green in another spring, bloom in a summer yet to come. But planting perennials, green now, calls for a sturdy faith that winter cannot win—perennials speak faith that under the ice, life lives on, and when spring comes, their life will be green and growing early long before it is safe to place tender young petunias along the garden wall.

As I left the nursery, a customer entering the store looked at my overflowing cart, and smiled. “You must think it’s spring,” she said as she walked past.

I smiled, and lifted a hand in greeting, although I did not speak. But as I loaded the plants in the car, and considered the planting dilemma I had made for myself, I felt a great sense of contentment.

“No,” I thought. “I know it is not spring. But along with my perennials I’m carrying home to their garden, I know that winter is coming, but that winter is not the end. It is a season to be lived through, and fall planting is simply faith that life can survive winter into the spring that will follow.”

Thinking with you that in relationships as in gardens we need to plant and prune and nourish trusting that life is stronger than the winters that come.

See you next week.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Risk management

September 16, 2012

Dear friends,

Relationship inevitably entails risk, something we all know well from experience. In an ironic sense, however, we often understand very little of the nature or meaning of these relational risks.

Our common notion of relationship assumes a view of the individual as an isolated and independent actor who moves selectively through life choosing those connections with others that provide power, status, comfort, and self-gratification. Such an assumption about people and the nature of relationship appears comfortably self-evident in a consumer society in which the “good life” is defined as acquisition of goods. Risk in this context is viewed as the challenge of “getting a good deal,” so to speak, in a relationship, that is, receiving as much (or more) than we gave.

Despite its cultural congruence, this concept of relationship is seriously flawed. It is true that relationship entails mutual exchange, but contrary to the culture's commodity context, relationships are risky not because of what we "get" or "lose," but because in the process of getting and losing we become more or less of the person we are choosing to be.  The bottom line of the relationship process is defined by transformation (the person we are becoming) rather than acquisition (what we get).

Every relationship, however brief, or however unsatisfying, holds this risk. I recently had an experience that illustrates this point.

I was waiting to be seated in a neighborhood restaurant when I became aware that I had been non-verbally included in a conversation between two younger women who were also waiting to be seated. The two were talking about political issues.

One of the women caught my eye, and then purposely raised her voice.

“I think it’s disgraceful that so much of our taxes go for the care of elderly people who do not contribute anymore,” she said with an intentional glance at my cane and gray hair. “They should be required to take care of themselves like the rest of us.”

My casual unthinking choice to make eye contact had resulted in a momentary connection with this fretful critical woman. I had become (without conscious consent) both audience for her complaint and target of her anger, and had in a totally unanticipated way entered into a very unsatisfying “relationship,” so to speak.

At that moment my options included some interesting choices, but remaining unchanged was not among them.

I heard what she said. I understood that she meant me to hear what she said, and, so far as she gave any surface indication, understood further that she was indifferent at best—and perhaps, at worst, intentional—in the risk of injury to me that her comment might inflict.

You can see the dilemma. I could choose the direction and shape of the inner response that this momentary exchange evoked in me, but I could not choose to remain unchanged. I had heard her, and she knew I had heard her, and she knew I knew that was her intent. By whatever small increment, hearing her message to me had changed however slightly my sense of myself and the woman I am choosing to become. But I--not the woman--could choose the direction of this change. Whatever I acquired in the relationship (a negative assessment in this case), I could choose how I was changed in response.

Relationships inevitably bring risk, including the temptation to deny the inner changes that even the briefest of relationships brings. Awareness is particularly difficult when we are preoccupied with other things. How could I have anticipated this tiny existential tempest to blow up in an unprotected minute in a restauant reception area? A temptingly simple response would have been to say to myself, "Well, I think that woman has a problem," and refuse to acknowledge the small inner twinge of self-consciousness that followed her barbed comment. But denial of impact does not provide reliable risk management.

If when we say “It’s not my problem,” we mean we are not affected by the behavior of others, then we have a problem indeed. We can act to determine and shape the direction of the changes that come with human connection only when at some level of awareness we choose  awareness (even when it is painful) and take the responsibility for choice.

As I believe the woman meant me to be, I was painfully aware for an instant of my cane, my gray hair, and the unarguable fact that I am not as economically productive as I was twenty years ago. The woman could, with reason, infer a lack of productivity in me. But what she could not do, was to determine my worth. God and I do that.

Only in this context can we willingly embrace the risk of relationship. Whether in chance encounter or in long years of interaction, a relationship changes us, and inevitably brings risk of negative assessment. But at such a time, we can act on our own behalf. In the context of our relationship with God, we can determine if negative assessment does in fact represent true evidence of lost worth and lesser value.

Thinking with you this week about challenges and risks that come with relationships. It appears that relationships change us whether we choose that change or not. However, the shape and direction of the change remains ours—for better and/or for worse. Only in the context of our relationship with God can the issue of our worth be faithfully determined. Only God can truly tell us who we are.

See you next week.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Prayers in the ordinary time

September 9, 2012

Good morning, friends,

When working at the basic discipline of self-examination, ideas that we have unconsciously (or carelessly) formed sometimes surface with startling clarity, emerging suddenly into words.

Annie and I sat in the glider one morning and watched the dawn bloom into day. Annie alternatively napped and checked for any unwary bird that paused on the lawn while I reviewed my inner journey through this last week. I became aware that I had been less urgent in my sense of prayer. I had prayed regularly with continuing assurance that God in Christ heard me. But sitting there quietly on the glider I suddenly became aware that—with wordless assumption—I had behaved emotionally as though prayer offered up in the routine of life had less importance than prayer emerging from crisis.

This behavior was not the result of ignorance. I have long understood that my need to live intentionally in the presence of God is constant, and that this need is determined by my humanness rather than the circumstances of my environment.

But knowing and doing are not the same. Kansas has used up a considerable store of energy. In this residual fatigue what I had thoughtlessly disregarded was the eternal changeless context of God’s care: He is no less desirous to be with me while I am napping than when I am waiting with Beth. My life changes. His love does not. He wants to be with me, tired or rested, in crisis or in boredom. His commitment to be with me is not triggered by my need but by His love.


For the darkness of waiting
of not knowing what is to come
of staying ready and quiet and attentive
we praise you, O God:

for the darkness and the light
are both alike to you.

For the darkness of staying silent
for the terror of having nothing to say
and for the greater terror
of needing to say nothing,
we praise you, O God:

for the darkness and the light
are both alike to you.

For the darkness of loving
in which it is safe to surrender
to let go of our self-protection
and to stop holding back our desire,
we praise you, O God:

for the darkness and the light
are both alike to you.

For the darkness of choosing
when you give us the moment
to speak, and act, and change,
and we cannot know what we have set in motion,
we praise you O God:

for the darkness and the light
are both alike to you.

For the darkness of hoping
in a world which longs for you,
for the wrestling and the labouring of all creation
for wholeness and justice and freedom,
we praise you O God:

for the darkness and the light
are both alike to you.

-Janet Morley

Thinking with you this week how difficult it is to keep God’s love the context of our lives, and how easily we focus instead on the journey before us.

See you next week.


“For the Darkness of Waiting” is taken from Janet Morley, All Desires Known, Expanded Edition. Harrisburg, PA.: Morehouse Publishing, l992, pp. 58-59.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Looking for the bottom line

September 2, 2012

Dear friends,

Lori’s insightful summary regarding relationship in last week’s blog merit restating. Lori writes:

1. Relationships heal.
2. Relationships entail great risk.
3. There are no short cuts.
4. Pain is inevitable.
5. To know and be known deeply and still love is one of life’s great joys.

These points might well serve as the first five chapters in a book titled, So You Want to Connect? I expect, however, that the first chapter, “Relationships Heal,” might well turn out to be thick enough to stand alone as a book in itself.

Lori is correct: relationships do heal. However, I know that with me Lori would add a serious caveat at this point. In life we soon learn that relationships can also be the source of deep wounding and may result in brokenness that takes years to mend. In light of this unpleasant reality, it is wise to think carefully about those traits that distinguish a relationship that heals from one that injures.

Lori suggests two things that appear to be essential: integration and authenticity. If a relationship is to function in truth as a healing process participants must bring themselves as a “whole package” to the process [integration], and, in the sense of full disclosure, each bring their “whole” package in a way that enables both parties to trust that what they see is what they get [authenticity].

Lori graciously suggests that in our first interaction these characteristics were demonstrated both in my frank acknowledgement of my unsolved problem in weight management, and in her response to what I said.

I remember vividly my first impression of Lori—slender, beautifully dressed, a “got-it-all-together” girl speaking with a slow cultured shadow of Texas in her voice.

And I remember too the immediate relational decision I faced as she explained her reason for seeking help. How soon and how directly should I confront the vital difference between us in appearance?

It seemed (and still seems) to me that I made a productive choice. I brought clearly and immediately to the table my sense of who I was—an experienced therapist with good skills, a sound sense of risk, and a tested faith. But I brought too an authentic acknowledgement that not all my life problems were solved.

In retrospect, I suppose in that nanosecond in which we make relational choices, I thought, “Well, the first thing we have to determine is whether this beautiful woman who looks perfect is willing to risk relationship with a therapist who is clearly flawed and imperfect.”

In that instant, Lori too brought to the table an authentic report of who she was: a woman whose troubled reliance on appearance and “people pleasing” had left her with a troubling and insufficient framework for successful integration of her essential self.

If relationship is to be healing, participants must bring the whole person to the process, and in doing so present an honest account of the reality of the whole person as they best know themselves at that time.

The reality with which Lori and I began has, of course, shifted with the impact of the years and with the changes in roles that we now play with each other. The interactions through which we have both been changed have incorporated many complex factors as we have worked out what integration and authenticity look like in the shoe-leather of walking through this long relational journey with each other.

Thank you, Lori, for your generous heart. From the beginning you have been willing to grant me a mercy that you were not always willing to give yourself. And thank you that trust has been able to flourish between us because, while less than perfect--like me, sigh!--you persisted in  bringing your whole self without pretense or dishonesty to the relationship. Your practice of authenticity and integration has blessed my life and encouraged my growth.

Thinking with you this week that healing may be mysterious but it certainly isn’t magic.

See you next week.


P.S. There is good news regarding my sister, Beth. She has stabilized and appears to have returned to us again for a space, although no one is guessing how long that time may be. Skype permits us to talk together almost daily. While Skype does not permit true “presence,” it does provide a reassuring connection for which we are both grateful. We continue to covet your prayers.